Chicago DSA Goes Viral: An Interview with Sean Estelle CDSA members march in downtown Chicago on Nov. 4. | Sean Estelle

Chicago DSA Goes Viral: An Interview with Sean Estelle

You recently had a video of a protest in downtown Chicago go viral. It shows members of Chicago DSA chanting “Fuck Trump, Fuck Biden Too. They Don’t Give A Fuck About You!” Can you give us a little background on the video? Who all was marching and why?

The action was called for by Illinois Election Defense council, a very broad set of endorsing orgs, who set a rally  to ‘Defend the Election’ and ‘Count Every Vote.’ There was also a big national coalition, Protect the Results, that this was a part of — apparently a call to demobilize went out from the national steering committee, but not from local hosts in Chicago because the action was grounded by labor unions and grassroots organizations accountable to our members. The main purpose of the rally was to #CountEveryVote — but lots of other chants were happening, and someone had started that chant as we walked by Trump Tower which was then taken up by a significant subset of the march, including the Chicago DSA bloc and the drumline that was marching next to us. For whatever reason, the video on Twitter took off fast and starting going viral.

Why is it so important for DSA and other leftist orgs to be out marching in the streets right now?

As I said above, big NGO’s tried to demobilize the main coalition that was being described as the main center of gravity for election defense and mass action. Some people cited safety precautions, but that’s wrong in my opinion, given that we saw neo-Nazis completely overwhelmed in Boston, Portland, and other areas over the last couple years. Jane McAlevey summed it up extremely well in a Twitter thread on Wednesday morning, stating that the national coalition was making the same mistakes she saw on the ground in Florida 2000 which led to the GOP Supreme Court stealing the election on behalf of Bush.

Additionally, whether or not groups endorsed Biden/were doing Get Out The Vote Work for Democratic candidates, there was a clear understanding on the left that we would need to be in the streets early to push Biden — no honeymoons allowed this time! These mobilizations were organized by a broad united front ensuring that there would be no coup, no stolen election, and that street mobilization would be necessary no matter what happened. And for us on the left, it’s useful to participate to make sure basic democratic process is upheld while also running a structure test so that our members are ready to fight from Hour One. 

As of right now, the video has over a quarter million views and 13,000 likes on Twitter, what about this chant do you think resonated with people so much?

I’m sure there were many reasons the chant resonated with people: elation at finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel after four years of insanity; powerlessness at the realization that the light at the end of the tunnel is not actually an entrance into some easy solution to our problems; disgust that the opposition party who we had to make calls and knock on doors for is utterly incompetent and wants to blame socialism for their failings instead of the exact politics that Joe Biden used to stay in power for decades; relief that threats of a coup/massive street violence were mostly a paper tiger, etc… clearly there were contradictions given the intense emotional response celebrating and hating the chant. 

People liked the video so much that you were able to use this opportunity to get them to sign up to be members of DSA. I noticed on the leaderboard for the ongoing DSA recruitment drive that you signed up around 30 people overnight. This speaks to how powerful digital organizing can be. Obviously it’s hard to recreate a viral video but do you see digital organizing as an important tactic for DSA going forward? And how can we improve at it?

Digital organizing is going to be extremely important while we’re all locked down and unable to recruit and build power in person. Social media and other digital organizing tools can be extremely useful, but only when they’re connected to the larger project of building power and independent organization. So, it was very useful for me to be able to smoothly use the #DSA100k recruitment drive ask we had created to respond to everyone who retweeted my video, trying to move them from online (just an atomized person in the social media sphere) to offline (making a commitment to sign up, join DSA, and plug in to organization building events happening at the speed of the organization rather than at the speed of Twitter). Another tactic I used that should be part of every single way we ask people to engage in ‘digital organizing’ is by having a series of asks or commitments prepared so that if someone accomplishes the simplest task, another one is ready. This is called a ‘ladder of engagement’ and is extremely useful for developing leadership and commitment over the long term in addition to having short term tasks ready for people. So, to make it concrete: I would publicly comment and ask everyone who retweeted my video to join DSA using my recruitment drive link — if they had already joined DSA or responded saying ‘OK I signed up, now what?’ then I would respond ‘sign up to recruit three friends by creating your own recruitment link at’, and also I would try and connect them with their local chapter’s social media. It was a lot of work over 24-30 hours but it paid off, because I was able to get 30-40 people to sign up for DSA and also don’t feel responsible for making sure they have the best experience ever in DSA — instead, I pointed them in the right direction and gave them a task to do.

There was also some backlash to the video in the comments from people who thought it was “toxic” or “embarrassing.” It’s hard not to get in arguments with these people but you did a good job of ignoring them. Where do you think this negativity was coming from and how did you deal with it?

The negativity probably came from a perception about my politics and/or the politics of Chicago DSA that says Biden and Trump are the exact same type of bad, which I don’t actually believe. Contrary to apparent established opinions, there is a certain amount of nuance that can be held which probably can’t be expressed in a 12 word chant (or a 280 character Tweet, for that matter). There also seemed to be a lot of raw fear about naming a truth that we will have to fight back, that Biden and Harris and the neoliberal goons of the Democratic establishment are our class enemy, and also fear that someone was willing to call out Democrats so fast given how shaky the Democrats’ foundation is. The NY Post (which is a terrible right-wing rag, so not the same as Twitter liberals) called us ‘equal opportunity haters’ – and I welcome their hate. It was also very easy for me to ignore the upset liberals on Twitter because I’ve been off Twitter for a few months and came back on briefly just to be as up to date as possible for DSA chapter work on the ground, so the brain-melted self-aggrandizing temper tantrums people tried to have in my mentions were irrelevant. And that’s how I encourage people to orient towards that sort of behavior – just ignore it and focus on the important shit, which is growing our organization and cyber-bullying people with actual power like elected officials as part of a comprehensive organizing strategy.

Someone made a house remix of the chant. Does it slap?

Hell yeah, it’s a banger. Shout out to @NickFaneMusic on Twitter  who says to please use the music for your recruiting videos and any other content!